Our good friend from down the road takes a look at the high school officiating system. Ed offers some unique insight and makes a few suggestions on improving the quality of the zebras for Friday night games.
Throughout South Carolina, on fall Friday nights, fans stream to stadiums to watch their local heroes rise to the occasion and hopefully stand victorious over their opponent. It begins in late summer and ends in early December. During these grueling weeks coaches and players are held up to community scrutiny. Players that do not perform, end up watching from the sidelines. Coaches who do not win, are often replaced. It's big business – bigger than you think. The revenues from high school football gates and concessions help fund other sports and school programs. Can you feel the heat? School Boards, coaches and athletic directors do.
From the coin toss to the post game "on field" celebration this same fall theme plays out from Friday to Friday – year in and year out. Everyone is accountable, the players to the coach, the coach to the school administration, the school administration to the school board, and the school board to the public who elects them. Everyone is accountable, except the officials.
Throughout South Carolina there are approximately 575 officials who cover close to 200 schools. For the most part, these officials do an outstanding job. Their number one responsibility is player safety. Officials are a vital part of the game making sure no one team gains an unfair advantage in the commission of a rules violation. Their job is monumental and they must do it while appearing transparent to the players, coaches, and fans.
Whether you feel officiating in South Carolina is outstanding or poor or somewhere in between, and I have seen both, our rating system for officials needs to be revisited, revised, and evaluated routinely. The present system has been in place since 1958 and is used to assess each official. The system was incorporated into the South Carolina Football Official Associations' Constitution and Bylaws in 1967 and is used in assigning officials to varsity football games. This rating system awards points to officials as follows: A rules and mechanics exam – 40%, SCFOA Credit (years of experience) – 15%, fellow officials ratings – 25%, district classroom meetings and preseason scrimmages – 15% and cooperation – 5%. Officials are assigned to games, varsity, and below based on this score.
During the late 60's and early 70's I coached High School Football in Florida. At the conclusion of each game, the head coaches from both teams had to submit a rating report on each official and submit this evaluation to the Florida High School Athletic Association. Failure to submit this report within 48 hours resulted in a school fine. These rating cards were required from coaches at all levels of play. These aggregate scores were a major determinate in arriving at the officials total score. With our present system, the only performance evaluation that is done is by the on-field officials. Which in and of itself poses a conflict of interest. What's worse, these evaluations do not have to be submitted until January 15 of the following year, long after the games have been played. Who could remember what kind of game a fellow-official called two months ago or longer? The timing couldn't be any worse. I am led to believe that many officials wait for too long, as in the last day, before completing these forms and some, albeit a few, don't submit them at all. To add insult to injury, failure to submit these rating sheets will impact an official's rating – under the category "cooperation" which counts 5% of the total official rating score – whoop'd-scooby-doo a total of 5%!
Let's fix it, perhaps that's too big an order – but lets improve it. I am in favor of having the head coaches of each contest evaluate the officials. If you talk with officials, they will tell you that many coaches don't know the rules. For example, one of my good "official" friend tells of countless times a coach will question his failure to make a call, not realizing that if he (the official) is paying attention to what he is doing, he couldn't make the call because he wouldn't see the violation – not his call – not in position to see fairly. I am sure this is true…. but, overall, who better to be part of the evaluation process than HS coaches. They are standing right in the middle of the action. They are more than students of the game. Many of them are former players. Their understanding of the rules is more than adequate. I have known some coaches who were walking-talking rules' gurus. Think about it, a typical HS program has at least five plus coaches on the field during a game and several well above the field of play. Most of these coaches have a keen eye for the game. They know what's going on! Added to the fact that most high school p